My Album of the Year: NQ Arbuckle and Carolyn Mark, Let’s Just Stay Here
I hate these lists of best album of the year that appear every December. What a joke. They’re some terrible combination of music critics trying to pick what they think will be the most respected albums in years to come (and will thus land them in some kind of music critic heaven of admiration, with devoted followers quoting them for years to come), publications trying to sell more copies or advertising space, and fans voting on a limited number of choices, trying to align themselves with smart critics or fellow fans. What is with this obsession with finding the best of the year? What are these lists going to do for us ten years down the road? What if it was just a completely bad year in music and there is no way to explain it? Do we still have to find something good to talk about?
Anyway, for me, the best album of the year is NQ Arbuckle and Carolyn Mark’s Let’s Just Stay Here. I was listening to it for the thousandth (millionth?) time on my commute this week, and I am wowed by it every time. I don’t know why. There’s smart little bites of lyrics in every song: “If you’re lucky, some Canadian farm girl will drag you back to her place” (“Saskatoon Tonight”) or “It’s all God and golf and thunder and I don’t believe in golf” (with a CBC interjection of ‘The time now is 3:00’ by singer Neville Quinlan) (“Canada Day Off/Toronto”).
Maybe it’s the lovely harmonies between Quinlan and Mark. Both of them have very natural voices: Mark’s wavers and wobbles, particularly in emotional sections or where she’s backed by sparse instrumentation, but it’s got great versatility and crescendos up to the high register with ease. Quinlan’s characteristic growl balances her fragility nicely in songs like “Sunday Morning” and “Itchy Feet.” And I love trying to sing along with her dancing phrase that opens up “2nd Time.”
Maybe it’s the serious, hardcore emotional satisfaction it gives me. I’m sure people think I’m a nutcase when I sing along on the subway, but how can I not join in on “I’m good at doing nothing at all/And making it look like work/…I wish I was smoother round the edges/Wish I was able to jump off ledges and hedge my bets” in “2nd Time”? I love the overriding romantic theme of the album too, something I don’t normally fall for, but Quinlan’s everyday lyrics make it not only believable, but applicable to my own life. In fact, I’ve made “Passing Dream” my wedding song because it perfectly summarizes the feeling of the day when we got engaged. When I’m feeling all lovey-dovey, I listen to the lyrics of “Officer Down” (which Quinlan seems to have written for his wife) and think about my honey:
“Drunk while you’re asleep, I sneak around the bed like a burglar/
And you don’t even notice when I knock over your glass of water/
It’s hard to be a good man listening to the Drive By Truckers/
You’re so good to me it’s weird, I think I’m happy”
And when I’m really mad at my man and just want him to go.away.for.awhile., I listen to “When I Come Back” with renewed enthusiasm:
“Wake me up, you’re always waking me up/
Why don’t you let me sleep tonight?/
And I can take my own self for granted any old time
When I come back, I’ll be an iceberg/When I come back, I’ll be a bottle of wine/
Sometimes I don’t feel anything/Sometimes I feel everything at the same time.”
They’re smart. The band and Mark picked brilliant songs to cover: Jr. Gone Wild’s “Downtime,” which is a rollicking, growling angry point in the middle of the disc, and Six Shooter labelmate Justin Rutledge’s “Too Sober to Sleep,” which is a slow ballad in original form, but now a hopping plea for a release from that middling state of being aware of how many drinks you’ve had but too drunk to do anything about it.
I suppose it isn’t surprising that this album happened. Mark appeared to sing harmonies on songs like “You Look Like a Wreck” on NQ’s album, Last Supper in a Cheap Town. And she seems to have a predilection for duets, with a whole album (including Quinlan), Just Married, and past work with fellow Mint Records songstress Neko Case.
The album finishes on a note of uncertainty, a piano ballad called “Let’s Just Stay Here,” which details the ambiguity with which a girl looks at her relationship and life (“Ever feel like you’re selling yourself down the river?…Do compromises all feel one-sided? Let’s just stay here”). Makes one want to just stay here with the album, forever and not bother doing anything.
But this is just my opinion. I don’t expect anyone else to get on board with my favourite album of 2010.
And, I just looked and realized it was released in 2009. Oh well.